LONDON — Grigor Dimitrov is finally showing a level of resilience to match his talent.
Making his debut at the ATP Tour Finals on Monday, Dimitrov withstood a comeback attempt from Dominic Thiem and held on for a 6-3, 5-7, 7-5 victory.
The sixth-ranked Dimitrov maintained his focus despite being narrowly denied a chance to serve out the match in the second set, and then being broken at his first chance in the third.
"Every year you learn more about yourself, about the game, about the players," Dimitrov said. "I’ve done also a lot of work on and off the court. Iit finally is starting to kind of, like, come together."
In the late match, top-ranked Rafael Nadal faced David Goffin.
Having become the first player from Bulgaria to qualify for the season-ending event, Dimitrov quickly settled into his new surroundings at the O2 Arena.
It was Thiem, who made his debut at the event last year, who started nervously, making just 37 per cent of his first serves in the opening set. Dimitrov was in the ascendancy and took his third break-point opportunity to go ahead in the sixth game, before comfortably closing it out.
"There’s always a little bit of tension before every match. And especially here, of course, a little bit because of all the atmosphere, arena," Thiem said. "Also because it’s your first match, it’s against a really, really good opponent, so you’re very tense."
The contest sparked into life in the closing stages of the second. Facing break point at 5-5, Thiem produced a forehand winner to deny Dimitrov an opportunity to serve for the match, and then broke to love in the following game to level.
Dimitrov gathered himself and produced the shot of the match – a delicate drop volley – to break in the seventh game and take control once more.
However, as he attempted to the serve out the match his poise deserted him once more and a wayward backhand made it 5-5.
In the pair’s most recent meeting, in Madrid, Thiem won after saving five match points and it appeared another remarkable escape might be on the cards.
But rather than Dimitrov, Thiem it was who wilted. The No. 4-ranked player produced two double faults from 0-30 down to give his opponent another chance to close the show, which this time he took.
"To be honest, I didn’t think that much about that last match against him. I thought about my last match against John (Isner) in Paris," said Dimitrov, referring to another recent loss in which he wasted a match point.
"It was kind of a similar situation. I was like, ‘Not again, definitely not again,"’ he added with a smile.